Rich characters, great plot – Gregory’s “The White Princess” is riveting

One of Gregory's best!

One of Gregory’s best!

So good it trumps my all-time Gregory favorite, The Other Boleyn Girl!  The White Princess is Philippa Gregory’s latest novel in Cousins’ War series. Unquestionably her best book yet.  It is fantastic—full of flawed characters you love to hate, quietly heroic characters you’ll alternately cheer and mourn for, and plot twists that will keep you reading well into the night.  You won’t want to put it down.  I read it over two days and was disappointed to reach the end because I was so invested in the characters and immersed in the storyline.  I’ve said it in my other reviews of Gregory’s novels, and I’ll say it again, she excels in the “what if” that lies between the facts of historical record.  It may not always make for an 100% historically accurate novel, but damn! it does make for some juicy plots.The White Princess is, of course, Elizabeth of York, eldest daughter of Edward IV.   Elizabeth of York is often portrayed as a quiet, motherly figure who lived harmoniously with Henry VII.  Gregory gives us another, deeper and richly satisfying portrayal of a young woman at the epicenter of upheaval in English history whose marital life was anything but comfortable.

This is her story, told from her point of view. Elizabeth’s world is full of conflicts and complications.  On the one hand, Henry VII gains the throne, restores her legitimacy and offers marriage.  On the other hand, he’s killed her Uncle, lover and King Richard III, treats her as no better than a tavern whore as the spoils of war and whatever legitimacy she recovers comes behind his all-seeing, all-plotting mother Margaret Beaufort.   The novel opens with Elizabeth mourning Richard in her heart, but outwardly appearing happy and content with the new regime.  This is a tough act to carry out and Elizabeth of York displays the rigid self-control that carries her through the novel, even on the day Edward of Warwick and her brother Richard are executed.   At times, her self-control fails her and sparks fly between her and Henry VII behind the bedchamber door, which shows how raw and real her emotions truly are.   (I though about the late Diana, Princess of Wales as I wrote this.  She was another princess who always looked happy and glamorous to the public but in private had a tempestuous marriage and life.)

Margaret Beaufort is a fabulous villain, a religious fanatic obsessed with carrying out her interpretation of God’s Will.  But she is well-matched in plotting by Elizabeth’s mother, the former White Queen Elizabeth Woodville, who hope a new son of York will rise to challenge Henry and supports several plots to overthrown the Tudor regime.  I loved this Elizabeth Woodville even more than I did in Gregory’s novel about her – The White Queen.  Admittedly I read it a long time ago now, but I feel like this Elizabeth is even Machiavellian.

Henry VII was not a wildly popular king and there were several challenge to his throne from the York camp, the most significant of which was from someone claiming to be Richard, Duke of York.  Gregory poignantly portrays the conflicting emotions Elizabeth would have felt, hoping her brother was alive, wanting to support York – but having to support her husband’s cause because her children are Tudors.  To tell you more would be to spoil it.  Gregory has now spent years with the Plantagenets and it shows in up in tight plots, and characters so vivid, so real and convincing that I carried them with me after I reached the end of the book.

Loved, loved this book.  Am now eagerly awaiting “The White Queen” TV series, which begins airing in the US on 10 August (Starz).

Here my reviews of other novels in the series:

“The Kingmaker’s Daughter” — Best So Far in Gregory’s Cousins War Series

Best in the Cousin's War Series!

Best in the Cousin’s War Series!

Philippa Gregory‘s latest novel, “The Kingmaker’s Daughter” is her best since “The Other Boleyn Girl.”  It is Gregory at her finest, excelling at coloring between the lines of history and bringing a lesser-known character to life. “The Kingmaker’s Daughter” is every bit as good and juicy a read as “The Other Boleyn Girl,” which I consider to be her finest work.

This was the first novel I’d read with Anne Neville as the main character, although she appears as a secondary character in many historical fiction novels about the War of the Roses.  As a background figure Anne—daughter of the powerful “Kingmaker,” Richard, Earl of Warwick and wife of Richard III—is often portrayed as a kindly but quiet, and sickly figure.

Gregory does not necessarily seek to change person Anne presented to the world, but she gives Anne an internal dialogue and spirit that reveals a character with fierce, determination.   The novel is written in the first person, which Gregory has used for throughout the Cousins’ War series. Perhaps it captivated me because Anne seems outwardly calm and inscrutable but we hear her inner thoughts and feelings that are so much at odds with her public persona.  I loved it.  I loved the suspicion and fear, and power politicking and strength that Anne had. It would never have come across so strongly in another point of view.

The novel tells the story of Anne and her older sister Isabel who grow from contented pawns of their father into significant players in their own right  War of the Roses.

Warwick was called the Kingmaker because he marshaled the resources to catapult Edward of York to the throne, snatching it out from under Henry VI.  But Warwick expected that in return he would unique power in England.  Edward VI had his own ideas.

Edward VI’s hasty, surprise marriage to Elizabeth Woodville wrecked havoc with Warwick’s ambitions for his family, and for England.  Elizabeth Woodville large extended family received favors – favors that Warwick believes should have been bestowed elsewhere. “If you crown a gannet, then she will gobble up everything,” observes young Anne Neville.

Warwick and his supporters feel they have been slighted and begin a destabilizing plot to overthrow Edward VI and bring back Henry VI, the “sleeping king.”  Key components of the plot are the marriages of Anne and Isabel to the Lancaster and York heirs – Edward of Lancaster and George, Duke of Clarence.  One way or the other, the Kingmaker is determined to get one of his daughters on the throne.

Anne and her sister Isabel are every inch Kingmaker’s Daughters. They each believe in their own manifest destiny to be the Queen of England, fulfilling their father’s dreams of glory for his family.  For a while after Warwick rebellion fails and he is executed, the girls believe the cause is lost.  Isabel and her husband struggle to regain favor with Edward, while Anne – a widow of the Lancaster heir – remains in disgrace until Richard, Duke of York claims her as his bride.  It is as his bride that Anne begins to shape her own destiny – quietly, behind the scenes.

Anne was not, in places, particularly sympathetic, but she was a real, emotionally solid character.   Isabel Neville, too, was well drawn but ultimately less likeable.

This was a thoroughly engrossing story, and one of Gregory’s best.  Her next novel in the series “The White Princess” is due out in a month, in which the story of Elizabeth of York – the wife of Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII – is told.  I can’t wait.